Easier access to vaping has potential health benefits

12 March 2019

Health gains and cost savings in the health sector are the likely outcomes of providing easier access to e-cigarettes containing nicotine, a study involving a University of Queensland researcher has found.

The study compared current patterns of smoking to what would happen if the number of people in New Zealand who vape increased due to greater access to nicotine-containing e-cigarettes.

School of Public Health Associate Professor Coral Gartner said the findings supported the new regulatory approach in New Zealand which kept vaporised nicotine products cheaper than smoking products by making them tax free.

“The most likely outcome was a health benefit equivalent to adding an extra 19 healthy days to the life of each New Zealander,” she said.

“That’s a similar gain to those from well-established public health interventions, such as a national colorectal cancer screening program.

“The likely cost savings, ranging between NZ$370 million-$7.1 billion (AUD$356 million-AUD$6.8 billion), would result from fewer people developing tobacco-related diseases because e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking, although they are not risk-free.”

Restrictions have been recently relaxed in New Zealand, allowing adults to access nicotine vaping products without a prescription.

“Accompanying regulations to minimise the risks of youth uptake of vaping are needed, including restrictions on marketing and where the products can be sold,” Dr Gartner said.  

“Moreover, strengthened policy on tobacco cigarettes, such as reducing the number of retail outlets for smoked tobacco, could work in tandem with greater access to nicotine vaping products to achieve maximum health gains.”

University of Melbourne professor and senior author Tony Blakely said the results provided important learnings for Australia.

“New Zealand and Australia are reasonably similar in disease and smoking rates,” he said.

“Policy making regarding e-cigarettes is challenging. Nevertheless, our study points to cautious liberalisation of access to e-cigarettes as the best way forward.

“That policy implementation should not be in isolation but accompanied by other policies that will make health gain more likely.”

The research was led by the University of Otago’s Burden of Disease Epidemiology, Equity and Cost-Effectiveness Programme (BODE3) that Professor Blakely co-directs, in collaboration with The Universities of Queensland and The University of Melbourne, and was funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

The study is published in Epidemiology (Doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000975).  

Media: Faculty of Medicine Communications, med.media@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3365 5133, +61 436 368 746.